image

Juneteenth, an annual celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S., is now an official paid state holiday in Alaska.

At a ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed Senate Bill 22 into law for the state of Alaska to observe Juneteenth. In brief remarks, he said that Juneteenth, and the later passage of the 13th Amendment, forever ended the blight of slavery in the U.S.

“Some people will think today is a celebration just for African American folks — it’s really a celebration for Americans,” he said.

Juneteenth commemorates when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and freed more than 250,000 enslaved Black people. In recent years, Juneteenth has become a broader celebration of Black freedom and a marker of the struggle for equality.

image
image

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, one of a handful of Black current state legislators, stood alongside the governor and broke down in tears before the signing. She said she was honored the bill she sponsored had become law after a prior effort had failed to get legislative approval.

“Juneteenth represents freedom — Independence Day for Black people — that’s why it’s so important,” she said.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and an Anchorage municipal holiday in 2023, alongside Indigenous Peoples Day. At least 29 states and the District of Columbia have designated Juneteenth as a public holiday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Senate broadly passed SB 22 last year. In the final hour of the legislative session in May, the House approved the measure in a 37-3 vote, sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Gray-Jackson first introduced a Juneteenth bill in 2021, but it failed to get a single legislative hearing. She attributed success this time around to hard work and being in the Senate majority. She also praised the lobbying efforts of Anchorage Republican Rep. Stanley Wright.

image

Wright, a Black legislator serving in the House, carried a companion Juneteenth bill. He said celebrating Juneteenth was about recognizing history, but it also represented moving forward and “validation for the community.”

“I’m ecstatic. I don’t know what to do right now, to be honest,” Wright said shortly after the bill signing.

Since 2001, the state of Alaska has recognized Juneteenth through an annual proclamation by the governor. The passage of SB 22 makes Juneteenth the 12th paid state holiday observed by the state of Alaska.

State employees will get a paid day off for Juneteenth on June 19 each year, or the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday. The public holiday will not automatically apply to the private sector.

According to fiscal notes attached to SB 22, the additional state holiday is expected to cost the state upward of $950,000 per year, largely in overtime costs for essential workers. In response to cost concerns, Gray-Jackson said, “You cannot put a price on celebrating freedom.”

After the bill signing and short statements from community leaders, a celebration was held at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. Dunleavy said Juneteenth would first be observed as holiday next year in Alaska.

“Let’s begin the celebrations,” he said.

image